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melanie81's avatar

How similar is playing the ukulele to playing the mandolin?

Asked by melanie81 (794points) January 13th, 2010

I need to hire a mandolinist for an opera we’re producing, and I’m considering being in contact with a local ukulele player to see if she also plays mandolin. Is it silly of me to assume that she might play both? Not sure how related the two are, other than the fact that they are a plucked/strummed string instrument…

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15 Answers

Strauss's avatar

Similar, but with several notable differences:
1. Strings. The ukulele has 4 strings, the mandolin has eight, tuned in four pairs.

2. Tuning. The ukulele is tuned with G, C E and A, intervals similar to a guitar (the baritone uke is tuned exactly like the highest four strings on a guitar, D, G, B and E)
The mandolin is tuned like a violin, each pair of strings is tuned in unison, G, D, A, and E

They are related in the sense, as you say, that they are both string instruments. The mandolin is more closely related (both in design and tradition) to the violin. Most fiddlers I know (bluegrass, Cajun music, other folk styles) also play mandolin because the tuning is the same. The Ukulele, on the other hand, is more closely related to the guitar.

ucme's avatar

Captain Correlli’s mandolin. Excuse me I must apologise for going off topic. I just love the sound of those 3 words together, rolls off the tongue beautifully…..ahem do carry on just ignore me!

sndfreQ's avatar

They’re very different to play, as the finger positions are different with the differently tuned strings. As mentioned above, the Ukelele tuning is closer to a guitar’s and playing a melody involves different fingerings (use and position of fingers on the fretboard) than the mandolin. I wouldn’t assume that a Uke player can play a mandolin.

Strauss's avatar

@sndfreQ “I wouldn’t assume that a Uke player can play a mandolin.” any more than one would assume a guitar player can play a violin. However, a guitar player should be able to play a uke, and with a small learning curve a uke player can play a guitar. Violin and mandolin players should almost be able to trade instruments.

By the way, there is a whole class of mandol instruments that correspond to other instruments in the viol class. The mandolin, of course, corresponds to the violin; there is a mandola, which corresponds in tuning and range to the viola; there is a larger instrument called the mandocello, which corresponds to the cello; and there is the much rarer mando bass, which is tuned like the bass viol, or bass guitar.

melanie81's avatar

NICE – thanks for this info! Very helpful. I ended up actually being referred to a (surprise, surprise) violinist in town that we already use a lot.

loser's avatar

They’re really different but a lot of string players love to pick up other stringed instruments. It couldn’t hurt to ask.

Rarebear's avatar

I play the ukulele, banjo, guitar in a bluegrass band. I have a mandolin but I don’t know how to play it (I got it really cheap). The ukulele is completely different than the mandolin—the only similarity it that they’re both small stringed instruments. I do know a mandolin player who can play the ukulele, but he’s a professional bluegrass musician. It is far more likely to find a mandolin player who can play the ukulele (because of the similarity to guitar, because pretty much every bluegrass musician plays a little guitar), but not vice versa.

Pcrecords's avatar

I have a friend who competently plays guitar and uke but on buying a mandolin was stumped.

On the other hand, you can always ask. Musicians tend to know other musicians.

Factotum's avatar

@melanie91 I reckon your violinist might even do a better job than an actual mandolin player as mandolin players tend to play bluegrass where classical training or even the ability to read music aren’t required.

Rarebear's avatar

@Factotum We don’t need to read music. We play by ear.

Factotum's avatar

@rarebear I know, I don’t read the stuff either.

Strauss's avatar

Playing by ear is a talent that often goes unappreciated by those who are classically trained or who can read music.

Rarebear's avatar

@Yetanotheruser It’s harder, actually. I do both. It’s pretty easy for me to read notes, but to hear a song and to come up with a decent melody on the fly is a very difficult skill.

Strauss's avatar

@Rarebear I also do both, although I’ve been doing them both for so long I seem to be able to do either equally well. My father played by ear for years, and it was part of what I learned growing up. I also learned to read music at a very young age (6 or 7).

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